Army Archives

Behind Prison Walls

"God has work for us to do. He wants us to testify for our blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who came into this world to save those who are despairing and lost." by Jerry Donaghy

I want you to understand, my friend, that which I state is not about what I did but what God did. Because of God’s great mercy I am able to tell you that Christ saves to the uttermost all who come to God through Him.

I had very good opportunities. My mother loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and she did her best to train me in the right way. For some time, I thought that I should be a Christian, but I got away from Christ and turned completely from everything good.

Mother prayed for me throughout her life. Ninety-six days after she died, I was sentenced to the Iowa State Penitentiary for a term not to exceed ten years for embezzlement.

When the huge steel doors of the prison clanged shut behind me on September 20, 1938, I was destined to spend several years in a cold, barren world that few good citizens ever come to know.

I began to have the empty feeling that inevitably comes to one who has lived a pointless life. Wrong living, the result of wrong thinking, had caused my downfall. This was something I did not want to acknowledge.

Soon I found myself hating everything that went to make a prison–warden, guards and the chaplain included. As the weeks passed, I became more weary and irritable, blaming the whole world for my sorry plight.

I had a feeling of self-pity and thought that I had been dealt with much too severely. I constantly talked about my troubles to everyone who would listen.

One of the inmates, whom we shall call Claude, decided that he was through listening to my tales of woe.

Claude said kindly but firmly, “What you need is a new outlook on life, and I’m going to make it my business to see that you get a bird’s-eye view of a way of living that will help you.”

He opened up on me then. What a lecture. “Love God. Don’t curse Him. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Be kind to those who persecute you, and above all, thank God for the judge who sentenced you here, for he has done you a great favor.”

“Just a moment please,” I said. But Claude said, “No. No, you’ve talked too much already. I’ll do the talking now.”

“The reason you and I are in prison is that we have violated the law, and I mean the law of God. All righteous laws come from God. You are miserable because you refuse to think comforting thoughts, good thoughts. At one time I was in the same boat you are now in, and what did I do? I got a new outlook on life, a new viewpoint. I let Christ guide me. What you need is God—faith—a new viewpoint!”

I was so dumbfounded that I couldn’t get angry. Anyhow, I felt that he was telling the truth.

“Claude, I admire you for your frankness,” I confessed, “but I don’t want to become a Christian.”

Then, a few weeks later I learned that he had written about me to the Salvation Army Prison Secretary in Chicago. Soon after, this Salvationist came to see me at the prison, and about three months after his visit I was told to pack my belongings and report to the deputy warden’s office. I was informed that I was going out very soon on parole.

On April 14, 1941, I was paroled to The Salvation Army. After I had served my required year with The Salvation Army, the officer asked me what I was going to do. I told him that I had no place to go, and as I was getting on in years, probably could not find a job very easily. He told me that I could remain in the employ of The Salvation Army, and for the past seven years I have been working in the Men’s Social Service Department of this organization.

On Sunday morning, November 2, 1947, I went to the social service center’s regular chapel services and sought Christ as my personal Savior. I went to the penitent-form while thirty-five or forty of my fellow workers looked on, and I have never been sorry for my decision.

Today I am not railing at fate, nor crying because I have spent years in prison.

Somehow, I now can see beyond another human being’s loathsome physical condition. I can feel and understand what he is suffering in his soul, for his disgrace was my disgrace. His punishment was my punishment. His chains are the same chains that shackled me for so many years.

In our special efforts to win souls for Christ, shall not we who are fitted by punishment turn lovingly to the poor outcasts who no longer have the courage to make known the longing they inwardly experience?

If we go after them in the spirit of love, perhaps our compassion will rekindle the spark of decency and good even as respiration revives the dying if but a single spark of life remains.

God has work for us to do. He wants us to testify for our blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who came into this world to save those who are despairing and lost.

Oh, I am so grateful that He took me up and healed my blackened, sin-stained soul when there was no other help. He opened my eyes to the truth.

If you are not a Christian, bow your head at this moment and ask Jesus Christ to come into your life. Quicker than it takes for me to speak these words He will enter and take possession. Do it now.

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